Which Bra for Which Sport?

Intro by Ruth Kelly, Materials Editor, ruth@ssachs.co

A sports bra is a women’s “base-layer”.

It’s the first item of her layering system, and has the privileged position of being next to her skin. Its so much more than just a crop-top and provides her with support, confidence, comfort and ideally zero distraction. The design of sports bra’s has come so far from the original “jock-bra” of the 1970’s.

Emmaline Vaughan Ronson shares with us over two decades of her insights into successful sports bra design and development with her first article for Ssachs, explaining how you can create a beautiful and functioning bra.

Whether the preference is Sirsasana (a head-stand) or marathon training, a sports bra can be created to suit the individual rigors of all workout routines.

We generally approach sports bras in terms of impact.  From low impact examples like yoga through to higher impact options such as running or contact sports. 

Photo Credit : Chevanon

However impact should not only be defined simply by the action. Rather we need to consider the body’s reaction to the force applied and how we can control the effects.

If the wearer is choosing the gravity defying positions of yoga or bouldering they will throw up a different set of challenges than our 5 hour marathon runner. 

So in creating a sports bra we need to understand the exercise we are designing for.  Taking the broad impact levels as categories we can look at the challenges encountered and how as designers and garment technicians we can resolve them through clever construction.

Photo Credit : Ryan Plomp

Low Impact – Yoga, Bouldering, Cycling

These are broadly in the low impact group of sports but they also fall into multi-dimensional exercises.  Sports spent upside down, hanging at unusual angles or hunched over a bike for hours.

In garment terms this calls for the focus to be in the performance of the material and in a neatly defined cup design.  Encapsulating the breast fully (no skimpy neck lines here!) in a high performance material will ensure the breast is supported in the round.

Attention to the finish of necklines and under arms to create firmer control will reduce the chance of ‘spilling’ out of the bra.  This should be of equal importance to the firmness of the under band and shoulder straps.

Photo Credit : Dr Chelsea Roberts

Medium Impact – Aerobic classes, Dancing, Hiking

Photo Credit : Frans Van Heerden

These types of sports push into the realms of more impactful aerobic exercise; fast paced, repetitive and a larger range of movement.

Now we need to give more attention to a firmer bottom band and wider straps to distribute the breast support. 

In addition, a broader coverage across the chest allows more fluidity of movement.  A sports bra that is more ‘top’ in shape fairs best as it is more encompassing for an array of movement.

The Reebok Pure Move Bra has a racer back detail

To compliment this a racer back is ideal.  Again providing a good range of movement and unrestricted rotation though the upper back.  It also has the advantage of drawing in and centring the breast weight for good balance.

If you are working on a mastectomy version strap adjusters should be at the front so the difference in weight between breast and prosthesis can be equalised.

High Impact – Running, Cross- training, HIIT

High impact or endurance sports have maximum downward pressure and are often repetitive in nature.

The demand of these sports on our body requires good engineering to match.  It goes without saying that a powerful material is key.  Materials with robust support and an element of compression across the lower cups and back are a must for control.

Photo Credit : Knix

We also need a design that is clean on the inside.  Over fussy design features or misplaced seams very quickly lead to trauma.  Bruising, bleeding or Lichenification (where the skin thickens through chaffing) are unpleasant and to be avoided at all costs.

Ideally we want a moulded cup particularly on the inside against the breast tissue.  Enclosed seams, seam free or welded seam options also reduce the rubbing that can occur at the outer edges of a garment.

Lululemon’s Enlite Bra has a moulded cup and welded seams

Adjustable shoulder straps and bottom bands also minimizes irritation.  Preferably these would be towards the front so they can be altered when on the body.  This way the wearer can respond to their body’s changes throughout their exercise routine.

A final look at shoulder straps in this category.  They need to be wide, cushioned and comparatively rigid.  The high intensity of such sports put immense pressure on the shoulders and its smaller neck muscles.  Rigid straps will go some way to reduce the force being taken directly through the shoulders but width and cushioning will help with the rest.

Identifying which sports bra for which sport is all about designing within a framework.  The best sports bras are designed with function in mind first.

Keeping a fix on the activity you are creating for; allowing materials to perform and putting technical finishes on centre stage is the bedrock to design that will sustain.

These factors should maximises the success of a bras performance and allow the beauty of an intelligently designed product to shine through.

Shefit Bra

Emmaline is a designer and product developer in the field of intimate apparel for almost 25 years,  In particular her career has focused on garment construction, manufacture and development.   She feels strongly about passing on this experience to others, either within our industry or to newcomers embarking on their own journey. We are delighted to welcome Emmaline to the Ssachs community and get that conversation going!



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